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Supreme Court Takes Up Abortion Case From Louisiana


The Supreme Court announced today that it will consider a Louisiana law that regulates how abortions are performed in the state. This is the first major abortion case the court has agreed to hear since the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, which moved the court to the right. The law is nearly identical to one that it overturned three years ago. NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon covers abortion rights. She is here with me now. Hey, Sarah.


KELLY: What are the stakes in this case?

MCCAMMON: So the big picture is we're in the midst of a years-long effort by abortion rights opponents to restrict abortion at the state level in an effort to force the Supreme Court to reconsider this issue. In this case, the court is going to look at how heavily states can regulate abortion providers. So this Louisiana law at the center of the case requires hospital admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions.

Abortion rights opponents say it's about protecting women's health, but abortion rights advocates say the real purpose is to impose so many rules that it becomes very difficult or impossible to provide abortions. And advocates say that if this law stands, this Louisiana law, it would force 2 out of 3 of the state's clinics to close.

KELLY: Now, what does it mean that the court is revisiting an issue that it ruled on so recently, just three years ago as we mentioned?

MCCAMMON: Right. This case is nearly identical to a Texas law that was struck down in 2016, the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt case, and that had been seen as a real victory by abortion rights supporters.

KELLY: I remember, yeah.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. So as you said, this is the first major test of abortion precedent since Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court. He is, of course, a conservative. He replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, who'd been the swing vote on the abortion issue. So there is a real possibility here that this court, as it's now assembled, will take a different view of these kinds of regulations.

KELLY: What's been the reaction so far? And let me have you start with antiabortion rights groups.

MCCAMMON: Right. They're certainly hoping that this is an important step toward overturning Roe v. Wade and other precedent that guarantees the right to an abortion. I talked today to Steve Aden, the general counsel with Americans United for Life.

STEVEN ADEN: The best thing for women and the best thing for our political system would be if the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. This is a difficult, thorny political issue, and it should be decided by the people in the states.

MCCAMMON: And Aden says if this Louisiana law is upheld, he believes there will be many more efforts to regulate abortion providers and clinics around the country.

KELLY: Sarah, I'm guessing you're hearing a very different reaction today from abortion rights supporters?

MCCAMMON: Of course. They have been warning of this for a while now. President Trump has been able to appoint these two justices to the court. That was something he campaigned on. So I'm hearing disappointment and concern but not a lot of surprise from abortion rights advocates. Alexis McGill Johnson is the acting president of Planned Parenthood.

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: This is exactly what Trump and the antiabortion politicians want - a world where abortion is inaccessible. And what we're really concerned about is the impact, the impact not just in Louisiana, which will be left with one provider, one clinic and a million women of reproductive age; we're concerned about the floodgates that will be opened up.

MCCAMMON: And Johnson says, whatever happens with this particular case before the Supreme Court, there are more than a dozen other abortion restrictions a step away from the court. And she says abortion rights advocates are really working at the state level. They're very focused on legislatures trying to repeal existing abortion restrictions or fight new ones that might be proposed.

KELLY: All right, so a quick look at timing before I let you go. The Supreme Court starts its new term on Monday morning. This is all coming right up. What will you be watching for?

MCCAMMON: Well, legal experts I spoke with today say it would be unusual for the court to revisit an issue like this so soon and not rule differently. So that might give us some clue of what to expect. And keep in mind, this is happening in an election year, likely to keep abortion front and center in front of the electorate heading into 2020.

KELLY: That is NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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